Rebuilding trust that has been lost: extending partnerships between NGOs, Government and Business

 ( Friday, September 13 2002

What emerged clearly from a workshop on business trust held at Deloitte & Touche in Johannesburg and co-ordinated by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Novo Nordisk and the University of Cambridge during the Summit in Johannesburg is that the need to build trust between business, government and NGOs demands new approaches in the way that both business and government operate in order to address the challenge of sustainable development effectively. The workshop was well attended by delegates from the Summit, business leaders, academics and representatives from civil society groups, financial services and NGOs.

The lack of transparency, accountability and inclusivity, as well as unequal power relations, were seen as the main reason for the breakdown in trust. In addition, the growing role and importance of values was seen to be central to the debate of building trust. Consistent and shared values need to be established as a pre-condition to building trust between partners. When personal, individual values are negated by behaviour required by corporate objectives, trust is undermined – both internally and externally.

These factors combine with fear of the increasing power of multinationals, the distrust created by past experiences and the disappointments caused by unfulfilled promises and agreements on all sides. Ineffective and untruthful leadership combined with overblown marketing programmes, which distort facts in the interest of vested parties complete the witches’ brew and we find ourselves in an increasingly dysfunctional society incapable of giving trust. Yet relationships of trust are essential for people to work and live with others.

Solutions proposed by delegates first addressed the most obvious responses: adopting a more accountable business mode by providing more power-sharing, greater openness, a heightened commitment to integrity and especially inclusivity. “Accountability is the essential basis for building trust,” said Preben Sorensen, global partner for environment and sustainability at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, “it provides the foundation for needed change.”

Moderator Tim O’Riordan, UK Commissioner for Sustainable Development agreed, adding that the next vital element was greater stakeholder participation at all levels. “That requires due deliberation as a vital ingredient in building trust and understanding. Stakeholders must genuinely believe that they can influence outcomes, that their views are heard and opinions listened to and that provision is made for their recommendations,” he said.

Lise Kingo, executive vice president of Novo Nordisk stressed the need for this positive interaction with stakeholders. “Trust is gained by a willingness to deal with dilemmas,” she said. “And there is a need to redefine business models – just adding a bit of social responsibility and environment concerns to initiatives and strategies already in place is no solution.”. With that, she introduced the concept of a fundamental change in doing business, with a greater emphasis placed on partnerships.

“Much time is required to build a dialogue and understand different viewpoints,” she said. “The challenge is learning how to talk and understand different viewpoints,” she continued, adding that trust is also reinforced when parties can accept that they will not agree on all issues, but can still find common ground to move forward.

Delegates then considered the opportunities now available to those companies which by their actions could show their accountability and thus their trustworthiness not only to partners and other stakeholders, but to the investor community and the public at large. “The pressure from the capital market to pursue shareholder value at all costs has proved to be wrong,” pointed out O’Riordan. The failure has to a certain extent paralysed the investor community, but it provides unprecedented opportunities for companies to show that an accountable business makes a successful business.
Delegates agreed that a paradigm shift is needed. The old models and structures are sterile. Business needs to be assessed not only according to financial criteria but on wider issues, such as its contribution to wellbeing, livelihoods, environment, social impact. Business itself needs to take action against those organisations that operate without conscience or scruple.

There was a level of consensus that what companies should do might well be imposed by regulatory frameworks but how companies should do this should be left to the companies themselves to create innovative approaches. Whilst some delegates called for strict regulations of corporate reporting, others felt that a voluntary approach allowed for the necessary development and innovations.

Video highlights and salient points from the discussions during the day will be made available at the organisers' websites before end of September.



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